“Circulating Dead Bodies”– Considering Postsocialist Funerary Rituals and Economy in Contexts of Mobility

« Faire circuler les morts » – Étude des Rituels et de l'Économie Funéraires Postsocialistes en contexte Migratoire (REFPoM)

In post socialist Central Asia, international mobilities, mainly oriented towards Russia, have considerably intensified since the collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1991. These migratory movements are sometimes accompanied, according to the risks of their routes, by the death of migrants. The project REFPoM focuses on the issue of mobility deaths in Russia and Central Asia (Uzbekistan Tajikistan, Mongolia). It explores an area little investigated by French anthropology and analyses a never-before studied phenomenon in the region, the “dead in the distance”, from an interdisciplinary approach that combines quantitative and qualitative methods. The new territorialities of the migrating dead bear witness to unprecedented circulation in the region by their intensity and form. Additionally, they encourage societies to innovate, to think of new ritual and economic practices to deal with these deaths.

The project is organised around two axes of study:

a)    “Reterritorialize its Dead. Symbolic Priorities, Rituals, and Economics”  

This first axis aims to analyse the symbolic, ritual, and economic modalities that, in the majority of cases, include the repatriation of deceased bodies. It also strives to understand the funerary ideologies, transnational ritual practices, and family relationships that underlie these deaths. The deceased raise questions about the choice of burial place, modes of accomplishing rituals and the financial costs that these dead represent, for whom we must recognize the diversity of populations (Tadjik’s, Uzbeks, Mongols, etc) and religions (Islam, Buddhism etc) who will be studied by the participants in the project. Here, in central Asia, and there, in Russia, institutional, political, and economic barriers contribute to the creation, by migrants and their families, of ritual and economic practices of adjustment. The analysis of Central-Asian migrant deaths in Russia will thus permit access the questions posed by their symbolic, ritual, and economic practices of reterritorialization to which they give place. More generally, this analysis will contribute to research on “deterritorialised deaths”.

b)    “Funerary Rituals, Memorial Construction, and Political Resistance”

The second research axes examines the memorial construction and political dimension of transnational ritual practices. One of the originalities of the REFPoM project is its political approach: it treats the ritual as a place of micro-politics which enables us to understand, beyond symbolic and familial transformations, the manner in which migrations and current political processes affect the relationships between populations and their institutions. Here, the notions of “tactic” (Certeau and Giard 2010) and “infra-politics” (Scott 2006) serve as a theoretical basis to analyse the rapports between social groups (migrants their families, etc) and the institutions that govern them. In understanding transnational rituals as an “arena of contestation” (Gardner and Grillo 2002) more or less visible or conscious, this project will allow us to make the political relationships between communities and the State visible, relationships that are not embodied in the institutions but in practices – here, funerary practices – which aim the most often to circumvent them.

For this research team, it is a question of analysing the role and dynamics of the funerary economy in a large sense to come to understand both he practices of mutual aid in migration, the management of death in the context of mobility, and more largely, the dynamics that underlie the relationships between society and politics in the post-socialist context.

The REFPoM project organises a monthly seminar, in partnership with MECMI, called “Death(s) and Migrations”, every second Monday of the month at the MAE (January-June 2018). The program is available here.



ANR (Instrument Jeune Chercheur-Jeune Chercheure), 24 months (2018-2019)



Project leader : Juliette Cleuziou (Lesc)
Members : Grégory Delaplace (Lesc), Christilla Marteau d'Autry (Lesc), Sandra Pellet (Legos)
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